When I found out I was pregnant with Sweet Pea in June 2011, my first thought was “Yay!” My second thought was, “Shit, this is not going to be the summer I break 47 minutes in the 10k.” I was right. I spent that summer being bloated and nauseated as a little human began to grow inside me. I didn’t know then that I would eventually break 47 minutes, five and a half years later. It turns out, that’s not as long of a time as it sounds like. How is my baby starting kindergarten in the fall??? (A blog post for another time).
I did the Prairie Dog 10k this morning. I wasn’t sure what to expect, considering I’ve been injured (or maybe injured-ish is the right word?) for a while now, and not running as consistently as I’d like to be. Based on a few recent 5k’s I assumed I was fit enough to run between a 7:30 and 7:40 pace, but by the same token, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve run more than 5 miles at once over the past eight weeks. So I didn’t know if I could maintain a good pace for an entire 6.2 miles. And even though my physical therapist gave me the green light to race, I knew that if a friend or a client were in my shoes, I’d have advised against racing at this point.
But I love racing, I’d already convinced three friends to do the race and I was excited about it (not compelling reasons to race if your body can’t handle it), so I went for it.
I wake up and immediately do my 12 minute Foundation exercise program (I’ve skipped one day since Jan 2 and I’m a big fan, so far) and my ten minute meditation, which I back down to eight minutes in the interest in getting out the door on time. Normally, my meditation consists of sitting with my eyes closed and focusing on my breath but today I think about how I’m going to feel while I’m running. I visualize myself feeling horrible, my legs begging me to stop but continuing anyway, not backing off one single bit, knowing that a minute or ten minutes or even 47ish minutes is not a long time to suffer. Breakfast is the same as always before a race, a glass of water, instant oatmeal and instant coffee (don’t judge). It’s freezing, and not in a Colorado, dry, amazing way, but in the moist New England way that chills your bones. The sky is gray and thick with moisture and I kind of love it. I wear only a thin tank top under a medium weight top with capris and I know I’m underdressed but I also know I’ll be happy about my outfit a mile into the race, and it turns out, I’m right.
My friends turn down my invitation to warm up before the gun goes off (actually they laugh at me) and of course I want to keep chatting with them, so my warm-up is closer to 1.5 miles than two miles that’s ok because I haven’t run more than eight miles, period, in months. (Like, many, many months.) I jump into the start area with about a minute to go and line up toward the very front. The gun goes off and my breathing is controlled but I am asking myself Can I sustain this for six miles? Maybe. Probably not. Better slow down. No, hold it here. No slow down a hair. It’s a downhill, not holding back here. Ok catch your breath. Regroup. Seriously, is this pace do-able for six point two miles?
I futz with my watch, peeking at the pace, scrolling to check on my heart rate, although I haven’t trained with a heart rate monitor in so long, I’m not sure whether to be alarmed or encouraged by the numbers. I see a cluster of women ahead and I feel like I’m eventually going to catch them but I need to focus. I set my watch to display the time elapsed and resolve to stop messing with it. I don’t need distractions. I need to focus on my breathing, my form, the ground under my feet. I get into a rhythm and the chatter in my head gets softer and softer until I can barely hear it.
I am disappointed when I see the women I thought I was going to catch pass me in the other direction. It turns out they are doing the 5k. Just ahead I see a guy in a baggy sweatshirt and I pass him easily. Now there is no one I can see. I wonder if I can keep pushing the pace despite the lack of competition. All I see is a dirt/gravel path ahead. I’m thankful the course is extremely well marked. I get to the second mile mark and my watch reads 14:33. I do some math in my head and decide this race could turn out alright but I remind myself not to get ahead of myself and also not to waste energy on math. I can’t help it though.
The third mile comes at 22:00 and I do some quick calculations and I wonder if I could actually do this thing in under 47 minutes. Finally I see runners coming at me after the turn-around. They’re men. They’re flying. They’re smiling and saying “good job” and I wonder how they can even talk. I realize after I turn around myself, that it’s downhill at this point. I smile and wave or give a thumbs up to the runners coming the other direction. I wish there was another woman, another person anywhere near me but there’s not so I look on the bright side; I’m running my own race. I’m following my own plan: Miles 0-2 should feel hard, 2-4 should be extremely hard, and 4-6.2 should feel like death and destruction. I forgot how much I love this distance. It’s been a while since I did a 10k.
I get to the fourth mile and my watch reads 30ish minutes and I wish I had been doing the kind of workouts I have been longing to do.. 3 by two mile repeats with 2 minutes recovery, 4 mile repeats with one minute recovery, 60 minute runs with 20 minutes at tempo, 8 x 800 on the track. Then I would feel like I could run two miles hard in my sleep, like it’s nothing. But I haven’t been doing those workouts. I’ve only done what I can do so I let my mind drift to other things I’ve done; like grinding up to Ward under the blazing summer sun on my bike. Every painful thing is a deposit in my bank but the beauty, as I’ve discovered over all my years of endurance sports, is that you can make a withdrawal whenever you want, but the balance never decreases. You can always remember what it felt like to suffer without using up the memory or the knowledge that yes, you’ve done it before and you can do this again.
The course winds around a pond, under an underpass, then up from the crushed gravel trail onto the road, and now we are back to the point where the 5k runners turned around, what felt like a lifetime ago. I see a lady plodding in front of me, and I wonder where she has been this whole time, did she start out way too fast and then die? I pass her easily, giving her a thumbs up as I do. I’m in a neighborhood and I’m on pavement and I love it and I’m not supposed to love pavement, living as close as I do to the Rocky Mountains, but you run faster on pavement with less effort, so I am thankful for this gift. I’m charging up a hill, that same hill I didn’t think too much about on the way down, past a bunch of generic looking new golf course houses, and I have no idea what my pace is but I know I can’t go any harder than this. My breathing is doing that embarrassing thing where I’m making this kind of “huh” noise when I exhale but there’s no one around to hear me anyway, except the volunteers. I give a wave and grunt “thanks” as I pass.
As I turn the final corner, I see the sweet finish and I have less than 800 yards to go. It’s a straight shot to the chute and I stay focused, running as hard as I can until I cross the timing mat. I look at my watch. 47:00 flat. I’m exhausted. I’m happy.
Turns out, my official time was 46:55, a 7:33/mi pace, I won first female overall and fifth person (it was a very small race). Of course I was thrilled to win a race (a first for me) but more than that, I was thrilled to race well, particularly with no one in my line of sight, and on low mileage. I was really proud that I stayed focused throughout. I have zero doubt that I gave it everything I had, which is huge. For the past eight weeks, I ran about 20-25 miles per week (plus cross training, including the spin class I teach every Monday, and the occasional swim or elliptical session), with some weeks far less mileage, due to injury stuff. Meanwhile, I had been strength training consistently (one to two times a week, which is not something I normally do) and I think that helped a lot. Meanwhile, my ever growing bank of experience had to have counted for something. There is a lot to be said for just getting used to a certain distance, and getting comfortable with discomfort. My time was not only an altitude PR but a PR, period, by 25 seconds! Also, the aches and pains that have been annoying me kept quiet throughout the race.